In Celebration of True Beauty

Trumpism spoiled a few things in our culture in the last 4 years: kindness towards people who are different than you, regard for intellectualism, regard for science…Christianity. Another interesting phenomenon was the widespread embrace of one of the crudest brand aesthetics I have seen that ended up representing our country. We know through learning about history, that when Fascism is on the rise, truth and beauty in all it’s forms, suffer. Art, Science, Intellectualism, and Discovery.

As an artist and a lover of beauty, the optics of the Trump era were oppositional to so many of the ideals I value. It was cringy to see this kind of vapid imaging become so mainstream.  I really believe strongly that we can shift the atmosphere by what we value, encourage, and promote. As Kandinsky says, “Art has power to create spiritual atmosphere. ” Trump’s aesthetics represent strength in steel and height, glamour in glass, glitz, and opulent filigree, but presents a flimsy veneer to what’s truly under the surface. He wanted to convey excess, wealth, and heroism, but on the cheap.  

“Trump’s aesthetic is an anti-aesthetic,” says Millman, of the School of Visual Arts. “That anti-aesthetic is based on things that are phony, things that are tacky, things that are ultimately lies. So that is reflecting the condition of our culture.”  

The whole brand messaging and ethos of the slogan, “Make America Great Again” was all about asserting power and force–the antithesis of the kingdom of God that elevates humility, servanthood, and quiet strength. Trump has perpetuated an aesthetic purely in terms of winners and losers. His popular mantras indicative of strength and power, an alpha male trope– “Build the Wall,” “Drain the Swamp”, and “Lock Her Up.”

Beauty is not a veneer. It is not a passing fad or style. It is timeless and irrevocable, like a statue carved of marble.

There is a story in the Old Testament about how the Israelites carved an idol of gold in the shape of a cow and set up a shanty makeshift altar as a place of worship. I’ve always imagined and seen images of a very large golden calf – but it couldn’t have been that big. They weren’t a wealthy people. They melted down what jewelry they had, which couldn’t have been much. In those same moments, God was giving Moses the intricate plans for building the tabernacle, and all the elaborate fixtures.

The Adoration of the Golden Calf, by Nicolas Poussin (1633)

In their impatience for a mediator, they crafted an idol to create a makeshift connection to God. They traded something real, tangible, and beautiful for something small, cheap, and lifeless. As artists and Christians, we need to talk about aesthetics in the kingdom of God. God cared about beauty. Exodus 25-31 talks about such exquisite details, and the substance of the materials. He cared about the time that it took to make it. He wanted it done right and he wanted it done well. He wanted it to reflect his character.

Make a table of acacia wood… Overlay it with pure gold and make a gold molding around it. Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them.

excerpt from Exodus 25

Trump was made into an idol by so many. Sadly, by many Christians. The thing is though, he lacked substance and that was reflected in the American Aesthetic he created — base, shallow, and devoid of beauty. And because art and beauty are also about connection, it’s worth noting that the base style he created connected with the most base attributes in us. It’s no surprise that his loose relationship with the truth would reflect in flimsy visuals. When we create, we permeate the physical with the spiritual, either good or bad. The God of everything is a God of depth and not facades; of vast experiences and therefore, vastly expansive connection.

President Donald Trump’s description of Confederate statues as “beautiful” merely mirrors his previously-mentioned objects of aesthetic preference. Before the statues, there was the “beautiful wall,” an oddly-conceived barrier prospectively bedecked with a “beautiful door.” Still earlier, in a more expressly deconstructive vein, and when the erection of Trump Tower had required prior demolition of the Bonwit Teller building in Manhattan in 1980, Mr. Trump’s artful response was to jackhammer its widely-prized art relief into dust.

Aesthetics and politics: Donald Trump’s idea of art and beauty

It’s important as believers to be able to distinguish between the real and the fake. You can’t fake love. You can’t fake truth and depth. You can’t fake morality. You can’t slap gold on a piece of particleboard and call it good.
In Trump, he has presented us with a mirror that reflects the bottomless emptiness of our time. Empty of purpose, empty of sacrifice, empty of humility, empty of knowledge and wisdom.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

Phillipians 4:8 

Truth and beauty are intertwined.
As the Trump era comes to a close, and hopefully, all the tacky paraphernalia that went with it, I celebrate the Beauty that unites our desire for truth and the ideal, because they are inexplicably linked. I hope as our nation heals, that the best in us can rise to the surface again, creating a spiritual atmosphere more conducive to embodying our Kingdom ideals.

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